After the Deluge
WIMBLEDON, England—So, as they say, that happened. I’m talking about Wednesday, of course, variously known as Wimbleweird, Wimblegeddon, Wimbledone, and the more straightforward Day of Carnage. Before Wednesday, there was one version of this tournament; a very different one exists now.
To recap, these are the notable players who, in way or another—defeat, withdrawal, retirement—fell out of the draw that day: Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Roger Federer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Marin Cilic, John Isner, and Lleyton Hewitt. Of those 11 players, only Hewitt wasn’t seeded. Seven of them were former No. 1s.
Tennis fans aren’t used to this kind of thing anymore. In the current era of metronomic consistency at the top, Grand Slam tournaments aren't supposed to blow up like this. Though even by the old, more volatile standards, Wednesday was especially bizarre. But as both Nadal and Federer said after their defeats, life goes on, and so does Wimbledon.
First question: Who’s left? Second question: Who has been helped the most by this unexpected rearrangement of the landscape? Now that the second round in each draw is somewhere close to completion, here’s a review of where the men and women stand. You might even call it an updated preview of Wimbledon, the post-Wednesday edition.
We’ll see how this surprising story plays out. It could produce low drama, and low ratings, in the end; the women’s final, if there's no big name to oppose Serena, might be over in 20 minutes. But I like the idea of giving new, or at least different, faces a chance to reach for the Slam spotlight. Tennis was ready for a shake-up. Here's a look at how things stand in both draws.
The big news here, obviously, is in the bottom half. Over the last three days, that side has gone from having an embarrassment of riches—Federer, Nadal, and Andy Murray—to being stripped nearly bare. Before the tournament started, we talked about the draw being lopsided; now that lop-side has swung in the other direction.
As far as Murray is concerned, the exits of Federer and Nadal alone would have been more than he could have reasonably hoped for. But they didn’t stop there. Joining Roger and Rafa on the sidelines are sixth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 10th seed Marin Cilic, 11th seed Stan Wawrinka, 14th seed Janko Tipsarevic, 18th seed John Isner, and 30th seed Fabio Fognini.
The seeded players left in Murray’s half are Tommy Robredo (he’s Murray’s third-round opponent), Mikhail Youzhny, Juan Monaco, Nicolas Almagro, and Jerzy Janowicz. Of those, only Janowicz seems to be any kind of threat on grass; the big Pole, who has Top 10 (or better) potential, beat Murray indoors last fall and has a bomb first serve. Janowicz plays Almagro next. Of the unseeded players left, only Ernests Gulbis, another big-hitting wild child, would seem capable of putting a scare into Murray. But that's not how it went when the two played here four years ago; Murray tuned him in three.
Otherwise, this section features a few "didn’t see that one coming" third-round match-ups: Adrian Mannarino vs. Dustin Brown; Lukas Kubot vs. Benoit Paire; Juan Monaco vs. Kenny de Schepper; Sergiy Stakhovsky vs. Jurgen Melzer. Is this Wimbledon, or a really strong Challenger event?
The London press has, naturally, described it as a dream draw and a gift-wrapped trip to the final for Murray—the implication being: Don’t blow it this time, Muzzard. How will being the decisive favorite in each of his next four matches affect him? If history is a guide, he should be fine. Last year Murray faced a similar situation when Nadal lost early to Lukas Rosol, and he ended up reaching his first Wimbledon final.
Something to think about: Kubot, Paire, Mannarino, Brown, Almagro, Janowicz, Melzer, Stakhovsky—one of these men will be a semifinalist.
The carnage hasn't spread to the top half; the men there were lucky enough not to play on Wednesday. The four highest seeds, Djokovic, Ferrer, Berdych, and del Potro, are all alive, as are Gasquet, Nishikori, and Haas. All of them, aside from Djokovic, must be looking jealously at the guys on the other side of the draw divide.
In this sense, the most ill-treated players are Berdych and del Potro, the No. 6 and 8 players in the world. Here they get to play the first Grand Slam in nearly 10 years in which Federer and Nadal aren’t a factor, and neither is in the right spot to take advantage of it.
Match to watch: Gasquet vs. Tomic
Ending to watch: Dimitrov vs. Zemlja; when play resumes Friday, Dimitrov will serve to stay in the match at 8-9 in the fifth set.
Best-named match: Tommy Haas vs. Jimmy Wang
Best name I didn’t catch in the original draw: Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff
As with the men, it’s the bottom half that has been shredded on the women's side. Sharapova, Azarenka, Jankovic, Ivanovic, Errani, Wozniacki: All seeds, all gone. It’s as if Murray had joined Federer and Nadal on the sidelines in the men's bottom half.
The upshot is that one of these women will be a semifinalist:
Puig, Birnerova, Stephens, Cetkovska, Bartoli, Giorgi, Knapp, Larcher de Brito
And one of these women will be the other semifinalist:
Kvitova, Makarova, Suarez Navarro, Bouchard, Dolonc, Flipkens, Cornet, Pennetta
And out of that entire pool will come your 2013 women’s finalist. Monica Puig, Wimbledon runner-up, anyone?
The only Slam winner among this group is Kvitova, champion here two years ago. But that pedigree is virtually meaningless with a player as drastically inconsistent as she is. Bartoli has been to a Wimbledon final, likes grass, and has even beaten Serena here. But again, she’s not going to be the overwhelming favorite in any of her matches. Larcher de Brito played brilliantly against Sharapova, but can she do it against someone who doesn’t feed her flat pace, which she loves? Sloane Stephens must feel like she has a golden opportunity to at least match her semifinal finish at the Australian Open, and presumably silence the doubters in the States again for a few months.
New Face: Canadian teen Eugenie Bouchard, who beat Ivanovic easily in the second round. She plays Suarez Navarro next.
Sleeper: Ekaterina Makarova. The Russian lefty beat Serena in Australia last year. She plays fellow lefty Kvitova next; an upset there would really create mayhem in this half. Makarova has won one of their three matches.
Just like on the men’s side, the cat hasn't gone away in the top half, so the mice aren't feel to play. Serena Williams is still as imperious as ever—more so, in fact; she’s on a 33-match winning streak.
But there is competition here, at least. Serena plays Kimiko Date-Krumm next. The 42-year-old from Japan was a semifinalist here all the way back in 1996. What she gives away in years she makes up for in grass-court skills. She played a classic match against Serena’s sister, Venus, here two years ago.
Also still alive on this side are No. 4 seed Aga Radwanska, No. 6 seed Li Na, No. 7 seed Angelique Kerber, No. 14 seed Sam Stosur, who plays No. 23 seed Sabine Lisicki next. The winner probably faces Serena; both of them can at least hit with her.
Player of Interest: Laura Robson, who opens things on Centre Court on Friday.
None of these women may be a threat to Serena, but unlike some other pockets of the Wimbledon draws at the moment, the women's top half doesn’t look like a shipwreck after a hurricane.